The University of Michigan Wolverines advanced to Saturday’s National Championship game after handing the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, the nation’s top-ranked team, a stunning 2-0 defeat in the second semi-final game at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night. The Wolverines got some brilliant goaltending from senior Shawn Hunwick, who stopped all 40 shots that he faced to post his fourth shutout of the season.
The game started out as a bit of a chess match, but it wasn’t long before North Dakota began to set the tone. Throughout the game, the Fighting Sioux did an excellent job of containing Michigan’s speed, but the Wolverines seemed to have an answer for whatever the Fighting Sioux was going to throw their way.
North Dakota got a scare at the 7:32 mark when freshman Brock Nelson (NYI) was taken off of the ice on a stretcher after crashing into the bad boards that followed a check delivered by Michigan junior Luke Glendenning. The good news for the Fighting Sioux was that the X-rays on Nelson were negative, but he did not return.
Although North Dakota dominated most of the opening period, it was Michigan that got on the board first. Senior Ben Winnett (TOR) fired in his own rebound off of North Dakota sophomore goaltender Aaron Dell for the score at the 13:26 mark. Freshman defenseman Jon Merrill (NJ), who took the initial shot, and Glendenning were credited with the assists.
The pace of the game settled down to open the second period. As the period progressed, Michigan took charge by opening up the ice and setting the pace. The Wolverines dominated the first half of the second period, but North Dakota’s pressure in the second half would come in waves. Once again, Hunwick was there to shut the door.
With Michigan clinging to a one-goal lead, North Dakota came out strong to start the third period to try and get the equalizer, but the Fighting Sioux had difficulty trying to solve the excellent goaltending of Hunwick.
The Wolverines as a team played perhaps their best period of the game to protect their lead with some strong forechecking, taking away the Fighting Sioux’s time and space, and keeping North Dakota’s shots coming from the perimeter. But it was the sensational goaltending of Hunwick that frustrated North Dakota the most.
At the 18:48 mark, the Fighting Sioux pulled Dell for an extra attacker. While North Dakota did generate some scoring opportunities, they had difficulty controlling the bouncing puck to get quality shots on net. The ones that did get through were either stopped by Hunwick or blocked by the Michigan skaters.
"We failed at what we were trying to do," said a somber North Dakota senior defenseman Derrick LaPoint (FLA) during the post-game conference. "We were trying to win a national championship and we didn’t do it. We can look at what we’ve done and it’s great, but this is the biggest stage and you want the biggest trophy."
"We came into the game knowing that we had to play well defensively, and we all have that mindset," said Hagelin, who was nursing an injured foot, during the post-game conference. "That’s been the strength of our team lately."
"Coach always said whatever team had the best goalie is going to win this thing and I think for sure we have the best goalie right now, so it’s a lot of weight off your shoulders when you have a guy like Shawn back there," freshman defenseman Jon Merrill said of his goaltender during the post-game conference.
Michigan, who will be seeking their first title since 1998, will face off against Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday night in the National Championship game.